FATHER AND SONS 43
Entering the gorge, the river seemed blocked in front.
Then from the cliffs a cleft appeared like Buddha's niche.
The swirling waters began to leave their wide expanse,
And narrow themselves into a deep abyss.
The winds bellowed through the cliffs,
And the clouds spewed forth from the caves.
Overhanging cliffs whistled in the high winds,
And twining vines glistened in resplendent green.
Bamboo groves stood over rocks, dripping with cold verdure,
And rhododendrons dotted the mountainside.
Falling cataracts spread a shower of snowy mist,
And strange rocks sped past like horses in fright. '>
Now and then they sailed past lone cottages, and saw, silhouetted high
up against the sky, some country lads cutting wood. The bare huts of
the cottagers bore 'witness to their extreme poverty; their roofs were
made of wooden boards, without tiles. As Su was reflecting on the
toil of human life, his attention was arrested by a grey falcon circling
at ease and in freedom in the sky without a thought for the morrow,
and he wondered whether the honours and emoluments of office were
worth the fetters of a civilised life. The falcon became a symbol of
the emancipated human spirit.
Now they entered the famous Wu Gorges, a stretch of fifty miles.
Here the mountains rose in height, the cliffs closed in, and the river
narrowed. The daylight changed into the dusk of an eternal dawn.
Gazing up from the boat, the travellers could see only a tiny ribbon
of blue which was the sky. Only at high noon could they see the sun
for a moment, or at night only get a glimpse of the moon when it was
at its zenith. Strange monoliths rose straight from the banks, while
the peaks were usually hidden in clouds. As the clouds, driven by the
high winds, constantly shifted and changed, the peaks at the awe-
inspiring heights changed their shapes also, making a moving picture
beyond the power of portrayal by artists. One of these peaks, the Fairy
Girl, had the shape of a nude female form and had become the most
famous one of the twelve since a poet oŁ the third century B.C. cele-
brated it in a passionate, imaginative poem. It was clear that here
up on the mountain-tops, where the heaven and the earth met in an
eternal interplay of winds and clouds, the yang and the yin, or the
male and the female, principles had achieved a union, and today the
"rains and clouds of the Wu Mountains" remain a literary euphemism
for sexual union. The air itself seemed filled with fairies and sprites
frolicking in the clouds. For a moment, Su Tungpo's young rationalism
asserted itself. The legends carried a logical contradiction. "People
are only little children. They like to talk about spirits and ghosts," he